Dani Alves has defended his Barcelona teammate and compatriot Neymar, claiming the forward has only been criticised in recent weeks following allegations over his controversial summer transfer from Santos.
Neymar, 22, has scored just three goals and provided one assist in nine matches since returning from a month out with an ankle injury, and missed three clear goalscoring opportunities in Barca's 1-0 win at Espanyol on Saturday.
Alves claims recent media criticism of the Brazil international coincided with speculation about the player's contract and the circumstances of his transfer, which led to Sandro Rosell resigning as Barcelona president in January amid allegations of unpaid tax relating to the signing.
Criticism of Neymar has not just been confined to the press, however, with former Barca player and coach Johan Cruyff remarking last week that the 22-year-old's arrival had destabilised the Barca dressing room.
Neymar has shrugged off the criticism, while Alves has stuck up for his beleaguered team-mate, insisting he is being blamed for the fallout from the transfer.
"I think the criticism only started when the details about his contract emerged, before that everyone was happy with him," Alves told a press conference.
"We should not judge him on how much he cost, but on how well he is playing. For me now he is playing as well as he was at the start of the season.
"You expect that there will always be a period of adaptation when a player arrives in a new country, but he has been playing well.
"The club paid so much for him because he is worth it. People have paid more money for players that haven't been worth it."
Alves did acknowledge that Neymar was under pressure to deliver at this vital stage of the season, in which the club are fighting to win the Primera Division, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League.
"We are at the key stage of the season and it's normal that people are demanding a lot of him," continued the full-back. "People are only demanding a lot of him because they know what he is capable of.
"And he has to keep demonstrating how good he is. If you don't do that in football, you take a step backwards. If today he plays 10/10, tomorrow he has to play 15/10."
Information from the Press Association was used in this article.